Nalaka Gunawardene


The oldest Department of Mass Communication in Sri Lanka (University of Kelaniya) is running a national conference on the future of media studies in Sri Lanka. I know this from the newspapers. I cannot provide links to any information on the event because none seems to exist, including information on the Department. However, they had invited Nalaka Gunawardene, a friend and colleague, to speak on new media. He was kind enough to share his slides with us.
The moderator of the DRR lecture and panel and leading science writer Nalaka Gunawardene has written about the discussion at the DRR lecture. More than 200 small dams did breach during those rains, causing extensive damage to crops and infrastructure. The most dangerous form of breach, the over-topping of the earthen dams of large reservoirs, was avoided only by timely measures taken by irrigation engineers — at considerable cost to those living downstream. This irrigation emergency was captured by a local cartoonist: the head in this caricature is that of the minister of irrigation. In early February, Sri Lanka announced that it will expand its dam safety programme to cover more large reservoirs and will ask for additional funding from the World Bank following recent floods.
In 2007, after false warnings and unnecessary evacuations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, I wrote the following (published in India in early 2008): Given the massive costs associated with evacuation orders (not only in lost productivity but deaths, injuries and other negative outcomes), government must be the sole authority. Given the certainty of blame if a tsunami does hit, over-use of warnings and evacuation orders is likely. It is important that procedures be established not only to make considered but quick decisions about watch/warning/evacuation messages, but also to counter the bias toward excessive warnings and evacuation orders. Disaster risk-reduction professionals know that false warnings are an artefact of the inexact art of predicting the onset of hazards: but the general public does not. If they are subject to too many false warnings, they will not respond even to true warnings.
“We told you so.” We said that the last mile was the key to saving lives; that focus had to placed on getting the warnings out to the potentially affected people; that they had to be trained to react appropriately; that all the fancy technology in and under the sea would come to nought if these key actions were not taken. Our collaborator Nalaka Gunawardene says it again in a SciDev piece worth reading: “What failed was the education process ­ only some of the people fled to higher ground and one of the boats put to sea immediately after they felt the earthquake ­ the right thing to do in these circumstances. Why wasn’t everyone well prepared to respond given the recent history of earthquakes and tsunamis in the region?” Nalaka Gunawardene, director of TVE Asia Pacific, a not-for-profit media group, hinted at underlying problems with the system’s suitability for its environment.

Innovative organizations

Posted by on December 20, 2009  /  0 Comments

Given we’ve just finished celebrating LIRNEasia’s fifth anniversary, I could not but notice a rather striking compliment in a piece published to mark the death anniversary of Professor Cyril Ponnamperuma, a great Sri Lankan who gave me my first job , post-PhD. The author, Nalaka Gunawardene, is a person we partner with on occasion and a good friend. But anyone who knows Nalaka will have no doubt that he speaks his mind without fear or favor. Looking at the 2009 December piece, I also came across an earlier post that refers to LIRNEasia in the context of innovative organizations: If we want to nurture imagination and innovation, we must first learn from the mistakes of the recent past. Obsolete institutions and ossified policies will need to be reformed.
Tharoor recalled the infamous words of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s communications minister in the 1970s, C.M. Stephen. In response to questions decrying the rampant telephone breakdowns in the country, the minister declared in Parliament that telephones were a luxury, not a right. He added that ‘any Indian who was not satisfied with his telephone service could return his phone’ — since there was an eight-year waiting list of people seeking this supposedly inadequate product.
Two publications, with chapters by LIRNEasia researcher Chanuka Wattegama, were launched during the GK3, third global Knowledge conferences held in Kuala Lumpur in December, 2007. The biennial Digital Review of Asia Pacific is a comprehensive guide to the state-of-practice and trends in information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) in Asia Pacific. The third edition (2007/2008) covers 31 countries and economies, including North Korea for the first time. Each country chapter presents key ICT policies, applications and initiatives for national development. In addition, five thematic chapters provide a synthesis of some of the key issues in ICT4D in the region, including mobile and wireless technologies, risk communication, intellectual property regimes and localization.
A new documentary film, titled Teleuse@BOP,  recently produced by TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) and based on LIRNEasia’s  study on Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid, highlights a communication revolution happening in Asia’s emerging telecommunication markets. When it comes to using phones, the film says, people at the bottom of the income pyramid are no different from anyone else; they value the enhanced personal security, including emergency communications, and social networking benefits. Increasingly, poor people are not content with just using public phones or shared access phones (belonging friends or family). They see a utility and social value of having their own phones.

Bridging the “last mile”

Posted by on November 13, 2006  /  0 Comments

LIRNEasia HazInfo project partner Nalaka Gunawardene has written an excellent piece on ICTs and disasters, referring in some detail to the ongoing HazInfo project. Bridging the long ‘last mile’ in Sri Lanka / 2006/4 / Media Development / Publications / Home – World Association for Christian Communication While the countries of South and Southeast Asia were largely unprepared to act on the tsunami, it was not really a complete surprise. As the killer waves originating from the ocean near Indonesia’s Sumatra Island radiated across the Indian Ocean at the speed of a jetliner, the alert about the impending tsunami moved through the Internet at the speed of light. Scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) in Hawaii, who had detected the extraordinary seismic activity, issued a local tsunami warning one hour and five minutes after the undersea quake. That was a bit too late for Indonesia – which, being closest to the quake’s epicentre, was already hit – but it could have made a difference in countries further away, such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.